Fair Chance is the third book in Josh Lanyon’s All’s Fair series featuring ex-FBI agent-turned history professor Elliot Mills and his partner, FBI agent Tucker Lance. I confess that I haven’t yet read or listened to either of the first two books, but because the synopsis for this indicated that the plot is related to that of book one (Fair Game), I did a bit of homework in preparation for listening to this in order to familiarise myself with the basic storyline and background, and had no trouble following along.
In Fair Game, Elliot – who was invalided out of the FBI a couple years earlier – became involved with the investigation into the disappearance of a student from Puget Sound University (where he now teaches) at the request of his father, a friend of the missing boy’s family. The disappearance turns out to be the work of a serial killer – Andrew Corian, known as the Sculptor – who, at the beginning of Fair Chance is in prison, awaiting sentence.
Corian has asked to see Elliot, indicating that there are things about his crimes that he will reveal only to him. However, their encounter consists of little but obtuse, useless verbal sparring, until at the very end when Elliot is about to leave, Corian hints that he may have had an accomplice, and that that person is keen to finish the work the Sculptor started. This news throws everyone working on the case for a loop – especially Elliot’s partner, Tucker, who is adamant that he doesn’t want Elliot involved. Corian is twisted, manipulative and dangerous; and his obsession with Elliot and need to best him hasn’t died now he’s in prison. If there really is another killer out there, then Tucker wants Elliot safely out of the firing line. But his FBI bosses say otherwise and engage Elliot as a consultant to their task force, which creates some tension between the couple. Tucker wants to keep his lover safe at all costs, but his overprotectiveness puts Elliot’s back up, and he sees it as indicative of a lack of trust that he can look out for himself.
Elliot is still adjusting to the massive change forced upon him when a bullet shattered his knee and ended his FBI career. He enjoys teaching, but is still coming to terms with what he can actually have as opposed to what he really wants. He and Tucker have a complicated history; a brief, passionate affair ended badly shortly after Elliot was injured, but they reconnected during the events of Fair Game, and by the end of that book, were back together and in it for the long haul. There’s no question that they care deeply for each other and are committed to making things work; and we see that here, as they talk through differences of opinion and try hard to be what the other needs. It’s refreshing to listen to a romance in which the principals are in a committed relationship, because most romantic novels are about the journey to the HEA and not what happens afterwards.
Elliot thinks that there might well be something to Corian’s claim that he had an apprentice or acolyte – a view Tucker does not share – and after a couple of visits to look around Corian’s old house (the scene of the crimes) is forced to admit that perhaps Tucker is right. But things take a sudden turn in a different direction when Elliot receives a cryptic letter from Corian that he believes must be a threat – but the exact nature of it is unclear.
At this point in the proceedings I’m going to say that if you’re thinking about listening to Fair Chance, do NOT read the book synopsis, because it gives away a major spoiler. By some miracle, I managed to avoid reading that part of the blurb (or had forgotten it!) so the plot development I’m alluding to came as a surprise and really increased the tension as it gradually dawned on Elliot and the others exactly what had happened. Not knowing in advance also meant that Elliot’s thoughts and fears resonated much more strongly and felt natural rather than seeming like a contrivance to introduce some angst into the story.
There’s a strong cast of supporting characters in the book, not least of which is Elliot’s father, Roland, who is very much a ‘right on’ child of the sixties and a bit of a local celebrity owing to his vehemently expressed anti-establishment views. The relationship between father and son is very well-drawn; they don’t always see eye to eye, and sometimes his dad drives Elliot nuts, but Roland is there for Elliot when he needs him.
The balance between the romance and the mystery elements of the story is just about right, and while things are fairly slow to start, that worked well, because it gave a newbie like me time to get to grips with the characters and the dynamics between them. This isn’t an action-packed, high-octane romantic suspense novel, though, so if you’re expecting shoot-outs, car chases and set-pieces, then this might not be the book for you. I enjoy those sorts of stories as well, but this, with its slowly emerging atmosphere of menace and gradually unfurling puzzle was quietly compelling, especially in those heartbreaking moments of introspection in the second half of the book.
I did think that the resolution to the spoilery plot-point I’m not going to reveal was a little weak, however, which lowered my content grade a bit. The ending is rather low key, but feels right in context; plus it leaves the door open should Ms. Lanyon ever want to write more stories featuring this couple.
I haven’t listened to narrator J.F. Harding before, although I’ve seen his name crop up at Audible quite a bit. He narrates this and the previous book in the series (Fair Play), while Fair Game is performed by Sawyer Allerde. I haven’t listened to that yet so can’t make a comparison, but what I can say is that Mr. Harding delivers an excellent all round performance that pulled me in straight away. His pacing in both narrative and dialogue is excellent, and he differentiates well between the main characters, performing Elliot using a tone and register fairly close to his own speaking voice and portraying Tucker by means of a deeper pitch, a darker timbre and a slightly slower, more considered manner of speech which feels completely right, given Tucker’s natural reticence. The majority of the secondary characters in the story are male – Corian, Roland, the sleazy talk-show host – and each of them is clearly delineated and characterised, making it easy to identify who is speaking at any given point. The one element of Mr. Harding’s performance I’m not completely sure about is his interpretation of the supporting female characters. That’s not to say that he’s not convincing or that he doesn’t differentiate well, because that’s not the case – it’s more that with one exception, the characters are ‘characters’ and it seemed to me that his portrayals became a little less subtle as a result. His interpretation of Corian’s elderly, gun-totin’ neighbour, Mrs. Foster, for instance veers towards caricature, and I’m not sure what sort of accent he gave to Tucker’s FBI partner, Agent Yamaguchi, although her speech is very clipped and unemotional, which struck me as appropriate for the character.
But those are small criticisms of what is, overall, an excellent performance, and I certainly plan to listen to more of Mr. Harding’s work. My first experience of both narrator and author was a success all-round, and I also plan to backtrack and pick up the first book in the series (Fair Game) in the near future so I can hear how it all began.
To sum up, Fair Chance is an engrossing listen featuring engaging protagonists, a strongly written romantic relationship and a suspenseful storyline. Fans of romantic suspense should definitely consider adding it to their wishlists.
Book Content: B
Steam Factor: Glad I had my earbuds in
Violence Rating: Fighting
Genre: Romantic Suspense
Publisher: Harlequin Audio
Fair Chance was provided to AudioGals by Harlequin Audio for a review.